Prince Charles and Camilla’s motorcade was caught up in a riot of nearly 30,000 students on Dec. 9, 2010, as students protested Parliament’s move to triple tuition costs as a means of shoring up Great Britain’s budget. Richard Edwards writes for London’s Telegraph that the Prince and Duchess weren’t harmed in the incident, but that paint, bottles, and trash cans were hurled at their car. He writes that protesters, during the Parliamentary vote, had rioted in Trafalgar and Parliament Square, and had assaulted a mounted officer, as well engaging in acts such as urinating on a statue of Winston Churchill, burning placards, booths, and a square’s Christmas tree.
Governments across the globe are engaged in or at least are beginning to consider legislation dubbed “austerity measures,” which are an attempt to bring spending in line with decreased revenue. European governments in particular have been hard hit over the last year.
In America, years of high spending, whether on financial bailouts, funding for increased military presence and wars, or on social programs which promote a safety net for the elderly or less fortunate, coupled with low overall taxes and a permissive tax system which allows American corporations to shelter income earned outside of the United States, have combined to put the United States on unsteady financial ground. Many local governments have already begun budget-cutting measures, with muted response from local citizens, for the most part.
Virginia’s Budget Cuts
After Virginia’s Governor McDonnell announced that his state’s next budget would, among other things, cut $20 million from student financial aid, furlough state workers 10 days over the year, and close up to five state parks, criticism abounded, notes Keith McGilvery of NBC29. Cuts in financial aid and mandatory furlough days are enough to cause hardship for many, but aren’t apparently as dramatic as budget-cutting measures elsewhere. Aside from concern and some grumbling, little reaction has been noted regarding Virginia’s budget cuts.
New Jersey’s Budget Cuts
New Jersey’s Governor Chris Christie also announced budget cuts in areas such as public school aid, property tax relief, state employee pensions, and family planning centers, according to the AP article on Fox News. Reaction in New Jersey was more vocal, as the budget gap was larger than that experienced in many states, and is expected to significantly impact those with low incomes, the disabled, and seniors, but reaction for the most part remained civil. As with most politically divided policy decisions in the United States, politicians spoke harshly against legislation they disagreed with, but, aside from words, little if any reaction was noted.
California’s Budget Cuts
However, not all is civil in American discourse. In California, a state that is no stranger to violent protests over unpopular decisions, UC Berkeley was host to a riot in February of 2010 over cuts made to California’s budget cuts to state education and tuition hikes. KTVU writes that over 200 students clashed with police, set fires, and smashed windows after an initial protest of the budget cuts turned violent.
This suggests that budget cuts that are deemed unfair, or significantly affecting one segment of the population more than others, may lead to increased reaction. But California’s budget woes are so drastic that large-scale cuts are being made across the board.
Something else may be in effect here. It could be that, while younger generations may not be as inclined to vote at the ballot box as older generations, some of the more extreme among them are more than willing to vote with fire and mayhem when policy decisions are made that they feel are unfair.
A Foretelling of Events to Come in the United States?
California’s reaction to budget cuts may signal what’s in store for the rest of the country as newly and solidly conservative legislatures have taken control of the majority of states in the midterm election, promising to promote fiscal conservatism. This means budget cuts will be the norm over the next two years, and if redistricting goes as planned, it could mean Republican control over a majority of states for the next decade.
To avoid defaulting on the national debt, fiscal sanity must be restored, and spending cuts will most certainly have to be made in conjunction with strategic methods of increasing revenue. Those methods could take shape as increased tax law enforcement, targeted tax increases, or an entire revamping of our tax system.
In Europe, the de-raveling of a long-established social safety contract has led to heightened passions and violent opposition to budget cuts. While America has a much smaller safety net, it has existed in some form or another for the better part of a century. As the numbers of the young, the poor, and the disadvantaged swell, given the dismal economy and our nation’s record increasing rate of income inequality, we’d best tread carefully when making changes to it.
Edwards, Richard et al. (2010). Tuition Fees Protesters Attack Car Carrying Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall. Telegraph.
McGilvery, Keith. (2010). McDonnell’s Budget Cuts Draw Reaction. NBC29.
AP. (2010). New Jersey Legislature Passes Christie’s Budget. Fox News.
KTVU. (2010). Two Protesters Arrested After Cal Riots. KTVU.